Earlier this month, I was made aware of an open letter being signed by professors in the fields of computer science, computing and human interaction around the country. Among many things, the letter states:
“We are speaking out to hold our community accountable: we believe sexual misconduct has no place in our communities or institutions.”
Although I take issue with some of the factual information presented in the letter, I would like to emphatically state my support for the call for change. We must all hold ourselves accountable to root out sexual misconduct and harassment, and ensure our academic and research communities are free from predatory behaviors. We must also support those who speak up – the survivors who come forward with stories of misconduct, the community members who work towards systemic change, and those who actively address it by calling out bad behaviors when they see them.
This might sound disingenuous to some, coming on the heels of several allegations of misconduct within the College of Engineering and the University of Michigan, and the public outcry that has resulted. As individuals and as a community, we have not always lived up to our values, and we continue to struggle with episodes of misconduct that fly in the face of equity and inclusion.
As difficult as it is to confront our inadequacies and mistakes, we must do so every time, with even greater intensity and self-reflection.
A light is being shone on sexual misconduct and harassment in academia, and in the STEM fields. Every person who comes forward brings more light, taking us closer to eradicating toxic behaviors. That light, which gets brighter every day, is bound to keep rooting more out from the shadows. I submit to you the idea that every instance that comes to light is not evidence of lack of progress, but instead is how progress will be ultimately realized.
But change is slow. Sometimes painfully so. That does not mean we should give up, but instead that we should actively push to accelerate that change. Within CSE, within the College, within the University and within the industry at large.
Concrete, meaningful actions are underway, and will continue to be. While each specific action outlined below does not by itself address the problems, together they create policies and an environment where representation and inclusivity are increased, equity is enabled, and harassment, misconduct, prejudice and bias are not tolerated. It has not been enough yet. And it will not be for some time. Although some processes lie outside of the College, we take responsibility for them, and we are making strides in changing them.
I call on all of you to stand with me in solidarity with the brave members of our community who have spoken out, and support those who may come forward in the future. We must demand a better environment for all, and demand more of ourselves and our colleagues.
We must make change… and we will.
Actions Underway and/or Completed (in reverse chronological order)
The below actions, taking place over the course of my tenures as dean or associate dean, are a concerted part of a larger culture shift within Michigan Engineering. Solidified with the articulation of our values and the establishment of Culture as a key pillar in our strategic vision, we have focused on implementing policies, practices and an environment where representation and inclusivity are increased, equity is enabled, and harassment, misconduct, prejudice and bias are not tolerated.
CSE Climate Assessment Committee (CLASS): In February 2021, Dean Alec Gallimore announced the formation of an independent, cross-departmental committee charged to organize and oversee a review of the overall culture and climate in the Division of CSE. The climate assessment was conducted by the law firm Giffen & Kaminski, preliminary results were shared with the department in late June, and a public report of the results and recommendations are anticipated in early July.
Professional Conduct Committee: In November 2020, Dean Alec Gallimore joined a subcommittee formed by the Provost Office to develop recommendations on the Professional Standards for Faculty (SPG 201.96) that support and enhance school and college policies and practices for evaluating, addressing, and documenting faculty performance to ensure a positive culture, as well as recognize and respond to unprofessional behavior.
CARE Center: In January 2020, the Michigan Engineering CARE Center was established to provide a central hub to assist engineering students by providing genuine and practical support, both inside and outside of the classroom. This includes support for students experiencing mental wellness challenges, harassment or other climate issues, with a direct line to accessing University resources to address issues.
Gender equity in leadership: From 2017-2018, the College welcomed a new cohort of department chairs, associate deans and executive committee members that self-identified as female, representing half of the faculty administrative leadership. This result came after more than a decade of culture change, which included assessing the climate, equipping people to challenge biases, ensuring access to mentors and expanding measures of merit.
College Climate Assessments: From 2017-2018, the College was part of the University’s climate surveys, which provided information about Staff, Faculty and Student perception of the climate in engineering. This information was used to identify areas of opportunity in our DEI Strategic Plan.
Culture Pillar, Values and DEI Strategic Plan: In October 2016, the College articulated its mission, vision and values, which includes Diversity, Equity and Social Impact. The following year, the Culture Pillar was launched, which placed a focus on ensuring the College’s core values were aligned with its culture, and that there was a shared sense of purpose and action backed by behaviors that reflected the values. The College also established a DEI Implementation Committee and launched its comprehensive five-year DEI Strategic Plan in 2016, which reflects a multifaceted approach to ensuring our campus is a diverse, equitable and inclusive place.
Dean’s Advisory Councils: Since 2013, a dean’s advisory council of female faculty members has met to discuss specific struggles and share solutions. A similar council focused on faculty of color was established shortly thereafter.
Hiring practices: In 2007, the College made STRIDE training mandatory for anyone involved in hiring tenure-track faculty or selecting leaders, which educates on unconscious bias and how to reduce its impact in decision-making. Sixty percent of our engineering tenured and tenure-track faculty members have attended, contributing to a “rising tide” mentality.